ST. PETERSBURG — Having gone through another eight innings of frustrating offensive struggles at Tropicana Field, the Rays had to try something.
So down two runs with runners on first and third and one out against Jose Valverde (37-for-37 in saves this season), manager Joe Maddon rolled the dice, calling for a hit-and-run.
But after Sam Fuld's hard-hit line drive went right to well-positioned rightfielder Ryan Raburn, Matt Joyce was doubled off first base to end Thursday's game, a 2-0 loss to the Tigers and the Rays' third defeat in four games to the American League Central leaders.
"If that ball falls or hits a wall, then we've got a tie ball game," Maddon said. "Sam did the right thing, and Matt did the right thing. It just did not work. It's frustrating to play that well and come up empty."
It was a fitting end considering the Rays' seasonlong offensive inconsistency at the Trop. For the fourth straight game, a Tampa Bay starting pitcher left in the seventh inning or later having allowed just two earned runs or fewer (not including inherited runners who scored).
But the Rays went 3-for-29 (.103) with runners in scoring position and left 37 runners on base during the series.
As a result, the Rays (70-59), who have been shut out at least once in seven consecutive homestands, left town on a seven-game road trip trailing the wild-card leading Yankees by 81/2 games with 33 to play.
"Our offense has really struggled," Joyce said. "We just have to figure it out. And obviously, it's late … and getting to that point where it's crunch time. We've got to figure it out really soon."
Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson gave the Rays a chance, allowing two runs over seven innings. He was a little wild early, including allowing a leadoff homer to Austin Jackson on the game's third pitch. But he settled in to strike out seven (including four in the third inning.)
"The first three pitches of the game, I think I missed by a foot on all of them," Hellickson said. "And they took advantage."
But Tigers right-hander Doug Fister was better, throwing seven shutout innings and retiring his first 13 batters.
"You might see some better stuff, but you can't pitch better than he pitched," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Fister.
Casey Kotchman's one-out single in the fifth broke up the perfect game, but he was stranded at second.
The Rays had runners on second and third with two outs in the seventh, but pinch-hitter John Jaso flew out. And in the eighth, they wasted a one-out double by Desmond Jennings when former Ray Joaquin Benoit struck out Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria.
"That's been our plight all year. It's based on lack of hitting in this ballpark and lack of situational (hitting), driving in runs," Maddon said. "It's been that way the whole season here, and I'm at a loss for an explanation. I don't have one."
It was another hard-luck loss for Hellickson (11-9), who has received one or no runs of support in nine of his 27 starts. But he did become the Rays' 10th consecutive starter to go seven innings or more, a franchise record and a first in the majors since the Mariners had 11 consecutive from June 11-23, 2003.
Said Leyland: "This could have been an 0-4 trip. I mean that's how good that pitching staff is."
Too bad the bats couldn't back them up.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.